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Dr Younis ShaikhProposed UK Legislation Links to Relevant Sites.

Dr Younis Shaikh - Released after 3 years under arrest,
2 under sentence of death for blasphemy

23 January 2004: Messsage from Roy Saich: The Daily Times of Pakistan reports:-

Dr Younis Shaikh, who was accused of blasphemy and arrested in October 2000, has mercifully been released. He was sentenced to death by the additional district and sessions court Islamabad on August 18, 2001 and moved to the Lahore High Court a few days later. But after having been extricated from a legal system that nets people through extremist decrees like the Blasphemy Law, he could not live in Pakistan for fear of his life. The release has also brought exile for Dr Shaikh, who has had to leave Pakistan for the safety and tolerance of an alien country and society. The activists who worked so hard since Dr Shaikh’s arrest to secure his freedom have every right to celebrate their hard-won victory.

The case of Dr Shaikh has been the worst case of the use of Religious Law to suppress free thought. There are many Blasphemy prosecutions brought every year, often resulting in prison sentences.

Before the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 the main news-story from Pakistan that was of concern for secularists was the death sentence for blasphemy passed on Dr Yunis Shaikh. Demonstrations were held in London on 10th September 2001, but since then other events have swept his case from the news. It is hoped that the sentence will be overruled by a higher court, but a lot of course may now depend on other developments in Pakistan.

The following is from an e-mail by Roy Saich issued on 20 October 2000:
Humanist Under Threat of Death for 'Blasphemy' — Urgent Appeal
An urgent appeal for help from the International Humanist and Ethical Union has been made on behalf of Dr. Shaikh in Pakistan. On 4 October 2000, Dr. Shaikh was arrested by the Islamabad police and booked under Section 295-C (Blasphemy) of the Pakistan Penal Code. On 19 October 2000, Dr. Shaikh was presented before the court, but he had no lawyer. Blasphemy in Pakistan is an offence punishable mandatorily by death, but Section 295-C does not even precisely define the crime it is meant to punish.

The following is part of an e-mail from Babu Gogineni of IHEU dated 31 August 2001:
Things are moving fast in the campaign for the liberation of Dr. Shaikh, sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy, after a defective, and partly in-camera trial where the judge was constantly intimidated by a mob of violent fundamentalist clergy. Two appeals have been filed on Dr. Shaikh’s behalf, one by the family and another by Human Rights activists. Now an inmate of the terrible death cell, Dr. Shaikh is not even allowed to carry a pen with him, and those who do not belong to his immediate family cannot visit him anymore. Thankfully, Abid Hasan Manto, Pakistan’s well-known and respected civil libertarian lawyer will argue Dr. Shaikh’s case without charging fees. A team of dedicated Human Rights activists are working hard to provide support for Dr. Shaikh in Pakistan, risking themselves in the process. The influential Friday Times of Islamabad has carried an extensive report on the case. On the IHEU’s website you will find statements from liberal Pakistani Muslims protesting the sentence. The campaign in Pakistan too has started. Our colleagues in Pakistan need help and support, and this can only be done by intensifying our efforts internationally. There are hundreds who are victims of these laws and we need to help. Have you written to your senator? Did you contact your Prime Minister? Will you remind them of the urgency of the matter? If your organisation has Honorary Associates or a well known President, will you ask them to issue a statement asking for the liberation of Dr. Shaikh and the repeal of Blasphemy laws in Pakistan (which victimise all religious minorities, specially Christians and Ahmadiyas), as well as in other countries? A sample of the press notices, statements and editorial comments from well known personalities can be found on the IHEU website. Always copy your communications to which is the central coordination point for the international campaign.


Proposed UK Legislation Against Religious Hatred

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, spoke about introducing laws against "religious hatred". [I don't have the exact text however.] This has naturally worried many people on grounds of restriction of free speech. A lot will depend on the way any law is formulated, if indeed it can be done. Two letters to the papers on the subject have received much publicity.

Rowan Atkinson wrote to The Times (17 October 2001): on Religion as a fit subject for comedy, for the full text click here (or search
An extract is:
Sir, I hope that I am not the only person in the creative arts who feels great disquiet about the proposals outlined by the Home Secretary in the Commons today, to introduce legislation to outlaw what has been described as “incitement to religious hatred”. Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background, I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures. Supporters of the proposed legislation would presumably say that neither I, nor any of my colleagues in the comedy world, are its intended targets, but laws governing highly subjective or moral issues tend to drag a very fine net, and some of the most basic freedoms of speech and expression can get caught up in it.
For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.

The Rev Jules Gomes (University of Cambridge) wrote to the Guardian (20 October 2001) on Incitement at Evensong: for the full text click here (or search
An extract is:
After comedians it may be the turn of the clergy to voice its concern. Can David Blunkett guarantee we will not be convicted for expounding ‘texts inciting hatred’, from our respective scriptures? Better still, could he consider banning all religious scriptures that contain texts of terror?
The Bible, to begin with, for inciting its adherents to “utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2).
The home secretary also needs to remind choirs not to sing Psalm 139:21 - “Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?” - at evensong.
And how about the Koran, which commands believers to “Fight those who believe not in Allah ... nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth ...” (Sura 9:29).


Links to Relevant Sites

Asian Human Rights Commission - Anwar Kenneth
Washington Post - Shaikh case
ABC Religion Report - Houellebecq case
Guardian Archive - Houellebecq case
Punjabilok - letter to Musharaf by S. Gill
Pakistanlink - Repeal the Blasphemy Law
Manila Times - about a Pakistan Muslim prosecuted for Blasphemy against Jesus
GAMJI (Nigeria) - /NEWS1870.htm is about the Nigerian Miss World Riots 2002

more to be added.

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